I love musicals. I grew up watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was obsessed with Sweeney Todd at school, love Hamilton, and am even partial to a bit of Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. But some of the worst films are musicals – and video-game adaptations, but let’s not go there! Pitch Perfect 3 or Cats are beyond help, but the film that disappointed me most was The Greatest Showman.
Despite a record-setting soundtrack, this box office hit left a sour taste in my mouth. I remember the trailer; emotional, exciting, amazing cast. And then I watched it – my ‘Million Dreams’ were shattered. No connection to characters, underwhelming numbers, lacklustre script… I’m not alone, with a low Metacritic score and a verified ‘Rotten’ Tomato.
So how to fix The Greatest Showman?
Characters Are ‘Never Enough’
Hugh Jackman’s charisma is potent and who doesn’t love Wolverine singing? But he’s had one Oscar nomination while Michelle Williams has had four. One of Hollywood’s most overlooked actresses confined to a minor wife role!
But that’s not the main problem. Already familiar with their star personas, we connect to Zac Efron and Zendaya easily. What about the Circus’ cast? With lesser-known actors, they needed far more screen-time for us to love them. Instead, they’re so… bland. This Is Me (supposedly intended to be iconic) is underwhelming. We have no connection to these characters confined to the background. It’s a scene that begs for strength but lacks any.
And why cast Rebecca Ferguson if her singing is dubbed? Her character wastes crucial time that could have been dedicated to others.
As well as Michelle Williams, the circus performers deserved more personality and focus. Spectacle is empty without the emotion of characters we care for – and we don’t care for many.
Who wrote the music? Someone experienced, or new but promising? No – the pair who wrote songs for masterpieces Tom and Jerry: Back to Oz and Trolls…
Yes, they wrote lyrics for La La Land and there are good lyrics here. But being trusted with a whole soundtrack resulted in a mixed bag with more X-Factor vibes.
To be fair, The Greatest Show and A Million Dreams are a strong start. But after you’ve heard A Million Dreams’ chorus a million times, it goes downhill. Never Enough is a particularly anachronistic low-point. If only we cared about the characters by the time we got to This Is Me…
I’d have preferred songwriters with a record of higher-brow, catchy tunes. My choice – Robert Lopez; nothing catchier than Let It Go!
‘Rewrite the Stars’? Rewrite the Script!
Sex in the City writer Jenny Bicks coupled with Twilight director Bill Condon was a disaster. Especially since Condon hadn’t written a cinematic screenplay in ten years. Events occur with little to no gravity. Barnum and Charity’s childhood romance just materializes over a musical montage. So do his success and Carlyle and Anne’s relationship.
It’s far too cheesy to take seriously, but this script could have ‘Come Alive’ with a director not best known for music videos. No wonder it felt more X-Factor than Chicago.
Musicals are complicated. Even Spielberg only took on a musical after directing for fifty-six years. You need a talented director with writers who can create loveable characters. Maybe hire Rob Marshall and let him redeem himself after Into the Woods.
The Greatest Showman had potential. But we needed to love the characters for the flashy spectacle to ‘Come Alive’. This wasn’t quite the greatest show…
Don’t miss the full review for The Greatest Showman here.